Master of Science in Translational Research (MSTR) Curriculum

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MSTR Curriculum

The MSTR degree is composed of 12 course units, under 4 pillar areas

  1. Research Methods & Implementation (3 c.u. required)
    • MTR 6020 Proposal Development and Study Design (1 c.u.)
    • MTR 9999 Lab units (2 c.u.)
  2. Analytical Skills (1 c.u. required)
  3. Responsible Conduct of Research (1 c.u. required)
    • MTR 6040 Scientific and Ethical Conduct
  4. Scientific Writing (1 c.u. required)
    • MTR 6010 Scientific Writing I
    • MTR 6050 Scientific Writing II
    • MTR 6060 Grantsmanship (Career Development Award)
    • MTR 6230 Writing an NIH Grant
  • Remaining 4 c.u. guided by MSTR concentration and/or research interests
  • Successful MSTR thesis (MSTR 6070 (1 c.u.), MSTR 6080 (1 c.u.)
  • View Sample Study Plan

Core Courses

  • MTR 6000: Introductory Biostatistics (1.0 c.u.)
  • MTR 6010: Review Writing (1.0 c.u.)
  • MTR 6020: Proposal Development (1.0 c.u.)
  • MTR 6030: Disease Measurement (1.0 c.u.)
  • MTR 6040: Scientific and Ethical Conduct (1.0 c.u.)
  • MTR 6050: Manuscript Writing (1.0 c.u.)

Required Core Courses

MTR 6000 Introductory Biostatistics: (Fall - year one)

This course approaches statistics from an applied as well as theoretical point of view. Students learn the correct application and interpretation of basic statistical concepts and techniques. The course covers probability estimation, hypothesis testing, nonparametric tests, tests for categorical data, correlation, and regression. Students will be provided with an understanding of statistical methods, skills in the use of software to apply those methods and the critical thinking to interpret analytic results produced by your effort and/or that of fellow researchers.

MTR 6010 Scientific Writing I: Review Writing (Summer II - year one)

This course will lead students through the process of writing a Review Article during their first Summer within the MSTR program. Review articles will be authored with the student's primary mentor and will be used to accomplish the following goals:

  1. Attain rapid familiarity with background in their new area of study;
  2. A mechanism for mentor and student to create a productive working/writing relationship;
  3. Help the student identify key gaps in the literature and/or areas of controversy that would benefit from pivotal experiments;
  4. Understand the factors that contribute to variability in research outcomes in their area and;
  5. Introduce the student to other scientists in their new area through an initial publication early in their career.

Mentors will be asked to agree to participate in this process, or identify another senior individual in their group who would perform the function as a condition to have MSTR students funded in their program. The course director and members of the curriculum committee will provide guidance and critical reviews throughout the process.

MTR 6020 Proposal Development and Study Design: (Summer II through Fall - year one)

This course focuses on study design and proposal development as they relate to the studies that probe the mechanism of disease. It discusses concepts such as writing a background section, asking a research question, designing a study, use of biomarkers, writing a research proposal, overview of different study designs and addressing feasibility issues. Development of the thesis proposal starts during this course and concludes with each student submitting and presenting their proposal to the MSTR faculty panel for critique and feedback.

MTR 6030 Disease Measurement Course: (Fall - year one)

Acquire the knowledge to rationally and effectively incorporate disease measurements, including emerging technologies, into the design of translational and clinical research protocols. Gain a basic understanding of measurement methodologies used in clinical medicine. Understand how "normal" values are determined, and how to interpret test results in the context of patients/research subjects. Approach disease measurements (tests) as a mean of answering questions, and to be able to choose appropriate tests to answer the questions being posed. The measurement aspects of the students' research protocol are written and evaluated during this course.

MTR 6040 Scientific and Ethical Conduct: (Spring - year one)

In this course, students will learn the foundational principles of scientific and ethical conduct of research, complete directed experience in evaluating these principles through IRB membership and ultimately be able to apply them to their own work. By the end of the foundational class sessions, students will understand scientific conduct, ethical considerations including human subjects and animal protections, regulations governing the use of health information, drugs, and devices, good laboratory practices, conflict of interest, and ethics in challenging new research domains. The directed experience will include membership for six months on an Institutional Review Board (IRB) at either the University of Pennsylvania or the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. This membership experience will expose students to real issues, considerations, and solutions in human subjects research and study design. ​

MTR 6050 Scientific Writing II - Manuscript Writing: (Summer I - year two)

Students will write a primary data manuscript for publication with their primary lab mentor. Emphasis will be placed on identifying publishable data that was either generated by the student, or which is made available to the student for analysis from the mentor's lab (e.g. perform a new analysis across data from multiple studies, organize and analyze data that is 'laying in wait' for someone to publish it). The student will be expected to learn the role of first author including:

  1. coordination with the senior mentor to write the introduction,
  2. organize data, analyses and figures;
  3. obtain or write methods and results from collaborators;
  4. writing a discussion and;
  5. "getting it out the door".

The authorship for the publication is left to the discretion of the mentor in consultation with the originator of the data and the MSTR student. This will both teach the student the value of publishing as an integral part of academic life, and will facilitate their success with subsequent grant applications. The course director will provide guidance and critical review of work throughout the process. Mentors will be asked to agree to participate in this process, or identify another senior individual in their group who would perform the function. Completion of the course and continuation of associated funding is contingent on submission of the manuscript. 


Students enroll in elective courses based on their area of Concentration.

Students must take electives that total two credit units. Electives must be graduate level courses that complement the student's project and future career plans in translational research. Electives require prior approval of the MSTR Mentoring Committee.

A sample of elective suggestions are listed by Concentration.

ITMATEd courses (MSTR and REG) that may be considered for electives can be found under ITMAT Education Courses.

Elective courses outside of the Perelman School of Medicine can also be considered.

Laboratory Units

  • MTR 9999 (1.0 c.u.)
  • MTR 9999 (1.0 c.u.)

MSTR degree candidates are required to complete two lab units of primary, meaningful laboratory research in a translational research setting. Successful completion of each lab rotation results in the awarding of one credit unit. The purpose of the lab rotation is to emphasize the basic components of the translational research experience, to appreciate that the underpinnings of translational research is understanding disease mechanism, and to learn the subtleties of the measurement of disease process and the complexity this brings to the area of human research.

The student formulates a lab proposalconducts the research in the laboratory, collects data, and analyzes it. Each lab rotation is meant to provide experience working in a new environment or learning a new technique. Examples of lab units include, but are not limited to:

  • a traditional wet bench experience to learn how to develop an assay
  • a clinical lab rotation learning how to perform and analyze a technique in your specialty
  • a rotation in a bioinformatics laboratory
  • a rotation in an imaging laboratory

Optional: Industry Internship

The MSTR program, in collaboration with its corporate partners, will provide an opportunity for students per semester to learn about translational medicine in a Pharmaceutical Industry Internship. This may be eligible for a MSTR 999 lab unit.

Industry Internship Program: The MSTR program, in collaboration with its corporate partners, will provide an opportunity for interested students to learn about translational medicine in a Pharmaceutical Industry Internship. The internship will include approximately 10 hours per week for one semester. Internships may span across various facets of the pharmaceutical industry, including discovery, development, regulatory affairs and/or commercialization. Students will gain hands on experience "translating technology" and will receive credit for the internship. This program will foster greater interactions between industry and academia by exposing MSTR students to the roles they can play in the pharmaceutical industry as a potential career path. Students will be expected to work on site at the corporate partners location for 1 day per week, with additional time dedicated to background research and preparation.

Evaluation process: Students will have both a university and corporate mentor that will participate in training and evaluation. Nalaka Gooneratne will serve as the university mentor for all MSTR industry interns. Corporate mentors will be assigned based on the specific content and department in which the internship is performed. Mentors will work together to ensure that interns are meeting the goals and expectations of the internship and the MTR 999 course requirements.

Eligibility: All students enrolled in the MSTR program are eligible to participate in the internship. An agreement exists between industrial partners and UPenn that permits this educational experience. The components of this agreement, which will be explained to students, include completing a free standing company application form that includes both a background check and drug testing.


  • MTR 6070: Thesis (1 c.u.)
  • MTR 6080: Thesis (1 c.u.)

Students are required to engage in a research project of their own design under the supervision of the primary mentor. At the time of application, each student specifies the project they will pursue, along with the primary mentor who will supervise the research project. Students will use class material and homework assignments to assist in proposal development.

The research should be translational in nature and involve direct measurements on patient-derived samples or the use of innovative therapeutic or diagnostic techniques with laboratory-based elements. There should be demonstrable clinical relevance. The protocol is to be designed by the student under the direct supervision of the mentor. Where appropriate, dual mentorship should be considered; including a basic scientist expert in the technology being used and a clinical investigator expert in the condition being studied. The primary protocol should account for at least 75-80% of the student's commitment to the program.

Trainees are expected to complete a thesis that involves designing a research project, writing a formal research proposal, performing the study described in it, preparing 1-2 comprehensive scholarly scientific paper(s) reporting the results, and presenting and defending the thesis at a public seminar. The defense portion of the seminar will be a formal oral defense of the thesis with three examiners.


Please note that policies concerning admissions, curriculum, funding and financial aid are subject to change. Additionally, though variations in the curriculum may be possible, any changes will need prior approval and may have financial implications. This website is meant to provide preliminary general overview information only. Students interested in or enrolled in the program should seek personal advising from relevant faculty and staff.